How time flies. I’ve recently celebrated my first year at Peridot Partners and have been ruminating about how I got here. It’s been the most positive of whirlwinds. A year ago, I had a lot of hope and ambition that this would be an exciting next step – but what if it turned out that recruitment wasn’t for me?
It’s now a year on and I can’t overstate enough how much I’m enjoying my Peridot journey. Every day is different, each assignment a challenge, and each placement filled with satisfaction. It’s a job I can take great pride in, and it’s been a privilege to support colleges, sixth forms, senior leaders and boards so far.
My journey to Peridot
Some time ago, in a pre-pandemic world, I got chatting to Drew at a conference in Birmingham.
I had known Drew for several years before this, and I was aware of Peridot at that point. Whilst I was not actively looking for a role, I had given him my details on the off chance he might have an opportunity that might fit my skillset. I had been impressed with the types of colleges they worked with and how they worked – though I wasn’t expecting much in this case.
Fast forward to 2022 and Drew had found a role for me, but it was a bit of a change of pace from my work with colleges. Instead of consulting in the development of learner voice practices, training governors, developing policy and leading on the growth of citizenship education in colleges, I would work for Peridot, recruiting senior leaders and governors to education institutions and boards around the country.
“No way”, I thought.
Why would I want to change my career into something I’d never done? It was a huge risk; I had little-to-no experience, and it was way out of my comfort zone.
But, if my previous roles have taught me anything, it’s that you can perform best when you’re out of your comfort zone. After a little more thought and a couple of conversations later, I was signing a contract as Peridot’s new Principal Consultant, working specifically in further education.
I realised it was time for me to make a change and take on the challenge. Drew had assured me I had the skills they were looking for. Who was I to argue? He conducts skills assessments on candidates for roles every day – it’s his job! And so, I was faced with a new start that allowed me to transfer my current skills and, more importantly, develop new ones.
Despite the initial nerves, I trusted that I would be fully inducted, constantly supported and allowed to learn at my own pace in my own way – all of this has completely reflected my experience, which I am extremely grateful for.
How does my previous experience transfer to recruitment?
My first job following my post-grad year was in an adult education college, supporting managers to deliver provision across a range of curriculums. I’ve been working with, and for, colleges in one way or another ever since.
Over my career, I’ve visited dozens of colleges across the country through my roles as a consultant and manager at NUS and NCS, respectively.
I’ve had the pleasure of working with senior leaders, staff and learners to support the writing of policy, develop learner voice practices and train governors. I’ve also had a focus on citizenship education and providing further opportunities for students to gain additional skills outside of their specific course focus.
As well as creating record levels of engagement with colleges through my work with NCS, I was part of the team that designed, developed and launched Skills Booster, a government-funded set of resources that allowed schools and colleges to deliver innovative and creative material throughout the Covid-19 lockdowns. By the time I left NCS, these materials had been used by over 300 institutions and delivered to almost 71,000 students.
This experience allowed me to understand how to navigate colleges and the wider sector. I gained an understanding of curriculum design and delivery, qualification frameworks and management structures. Furthermore, I developed a solid understanding of governance in FE, supported by my own experience as a governor and trustee.
I’m fortunate to have built a lot of contacts and connections and I’m privileged to have friendships thanks to the FE sector. I call on this knowledge when identifying new candidates and I’m able to use my connections to gain recommendations and referrals, a useful part of our search process.
Earlier in my time at NCS, I was seconded to Natspec, the membership association for organisations that offer specialist further education and training to learners with SEND. Here, I helped them to establish their national learner voice to parliament. This gave me a huge insight into a very specific part of the education sector which has allowed me to support Peridot in broadening the reach of our work.
Earlier this year, we proudly became a corporate member of Natspec. We have worked with a number of their members to successfully place senior leaders and governors, and are looking forward to sponsoring the Learner Voice Award at their upcoming conference.
What have I learned in my first year?
Lesson 1: Trust the process
My advice to both aspiring recruiters and to the colleges I partner with is simple: trust the process.
Some searches are easier than others just by the nature of the criteria and skills required.
However, even on those really niche governor searches – and I’ve had a few – you can identify people who have the skill sets and the interest in volunteering their time, as long as you have patience and trust in the research.
For example, I recruited a governor for a land-based college. Unlike many governor roles, the college didn’t need a curriculum expert or a qualified finance professional. No, they needed someone with expertise in the equine industry. It’s fair to say, other than riding a horse a few times as a child, I know nothing about this industry. However, through following the brief and trusting the process, I identified a range of suitably experienced candidates and made a successful appointment.
Lesson 2: Transparency and honesty are the vital ingredients.
Transparency and honesty are key to how we work.
As recruiters, we can face many challenges. Perhaps the search is proving a struggle or potential candidates just aren’t as excited about a role as we would hope. Perhaps our advertising or attraction strategy isn’t as effective as we’d hoped. It’s up to us to help our partners identify and overcome these challenges.
We expect the same openness from our partners. We spend time understanding strengths and aspirations, but also challenges and risks. In fact, good recruiters understand how the challenges that organisations face can become opportunities for the right candidate. Being honest about these challenges can help us show how a good candidate can have an impact.
But we can only do this if we are open with candidates and our partners.
This brings me to my third lesson…
Lesson 3: We’re working with people.
Relationships are at the heart of recruitment. There are the highs and lows of sharing good news and bad. Whilst it’s important to celebrate the success of appointed candidates, it’s just as important to support candidates who aren’t successful in a process by offering quality feedback and guidance so they can do better next time. Applying for a new role, be that remunerated, or voluntary, is a commitment. People invest time, energy and emotion into doing it. We recognise and support those who are willing to commit.
Specifically with voluntary roles such as governors, we recognise that candidates are writing these applications alongside very busy professional and personal lives and I like to offer as much flexibility and support to them through the application phase as I can.
Perhaps the biggest thing I’ve learned is that it’s never too late to make a change. If you’re curious about becoming a recruiter, get in touch with me for an informal chat or click here to learn more.
Dan Baxter is our Principal Consultant, Further Education Appointments (North). With his extensive experience working across the education sector with organisations that champion those who need support, Dan has been brilliantly supporting our clients to inspire the next generation ever since. You can connect with Dan on Linkedin, or send him an email.